Among the most famous and appreciated products of southern Romagna there are without doubt the rust printed canvas through the use of engraved moulds, soaked in colour and beaten with a mallet .
Let’s find out more about this traditional handcrafted technique: origins and techniques, characteristic drawings, public accessible workshops.. and some tricks to avoid being "deceived"!
The origins of this manual art are lost in time and are related to poor handicraft, linked to the rural and peasant world: wooden moulds, colours obtained from rust, canvas made from the hemp grown in the fields and woven by home looms.
The moulds are preferably made of pear wood, not only because this material can be easily found in the countryside of Romagna, but also because it is a soft wood, suitable for incision with chisel and mallet resistant.
The most common drawings are floral motifs (leaves, vines, grapes, ears of corn, flowers, pomegranates..) and animals (roosters, griffins, cattle, pheasants, birds..), although there are also elements of everyday farming life and geometric shapes. Every printing workshop has its own heritage of matrices, often made in the shop by the owner himself, and some have really original drawings, other similar subjects but different interpretation.
The most traditional coloured paste is obtained from rust, which takes the popular shades from orange to ochre. The rust is obtained from iron oxidized with vinegar, to which iron sulphate and wheat flour are added. These are the basic ingredients, but their proportions vary from a printing workshop to another, and every printer jealously guards its recipe! Other very popular colours (obtained from mineral pastes) are various shades of blue and green, and the “old red”. Now let’s have a look at the procedure: the coloured paste is spread on a stamp pad while the canvas to be printed is placed on a suitably padded table. The mould is dipped into the stamp pad and then applied on the canvas: the left hand firmly blocks the mould, while the right hand is holding a mallet of about 3 or 4 kilos which, with rapid and accurate movements, hits the mould with three decisive blows... And so on, juxtaposing matrices until the desired decoration is completed. The canvas is left to dry before being immersed in a fixing bath with caustic soda, in the past obtained with ash and water. Finally, the canvas is washed to remove colour in excess and hung out to dry again.
But how can we recognize the originality of these printed canvases? Here's some little advice to check if our canvas has been produced by using the real handcrafted technique! First, check that drawing and the colour of the printing are clearly visible even on the reverse of the canvas; it’s right on the reverse that small irregularities and imperfections, due to manual operation, are more noticeable. A handmade printing should present slight "discrepancies", due to the composition by combination of moulds. The repetition of same drawing may also have some differences between a printing and another. Look carefully at colours too: those of industrial printing can be easily recognized because they are flat and uniform, while those of handmade printing are necessarily subject to nuances and uneven distribution of colour. In short, every tablecloth, dish cloth, napkin is a real unique piece that no industrial production, even the finest one, can imitate!
In 1997 a group of Rimini’s artisans joined the owners of other shops in Romagna to protect the uniqueness and originality of this handcrafted art, creating the Associazione Stampatori Tele Romagna. The Association is formed by the union of the printing workshops that continue to use the traditional production process and want to safeguard this method, protecting customers against counterfeiting and the historic workshops, which today are about ten. You can recognize the canvas produced by these printing workshops from the label, which bears the trademark of the Association.
If you are curious about discovering in person the canvas processing, please note that many of these shops are happy to welcome visitors in their workshops! Among the workshops of the Association (contact the workshops to verify availability / conditions for the visit)
Finally, in Santarcangelo di Romagna, there is one of the oldest printing workshops, La Stamperia Marchi. Nowadays, a giant mangle dating back to 1633 is used here, unique exemplar in the world for size and weight. The owners organize guided tours for groups or individuals on request by filling out an online form.